What are Your Community’s Civil Vulnerabilities?

About the Author

Rick Morse

Rick Morse is an associate professor of public administration and government at the UNC School of Government.

Rick Morse is a School of Government faculty member.

A few months ago Tyler Mulligan and I had the opportunity to work with Bravo Company of the 98th Civil Affairs Battalion of the U.S. Army, stationed at Ft. Bragg. They asked for our help in developing their analytical skill-set in preparation for a deployment to Latin America. It was a learning experience for all involved. While I think what we shared with them will be useful, I also came away with some insights about community development that I’ll share here in this blog post. I also came away from the experience with a great deal of respect and admiration for these soldiers and the work they do.

When I was first approached by Company Commander Major Lewis about working with them my first reaction was “why us?” This was the Army and whatever work they do is overseas. Our expertise here is North Carolina communities and governance. But as I learned about what Civil Affairs (CA) does all around the world, I came to think of them as kind of like the Peace Corps in Army fatigues. They engage in community development all across the world, and in particular engage local governments and other governance institutions to help mitigate what they call “civil vulnerabilities.” So in a real sense they are community developers. And as the CA arm of the Army expands, they are finding that they need to develop a broader set of analytical tools to help understand communities and the nature of their vulnerabilities, and strategies for mitigating those vulnerabilities.

So in late April, Tyler Mulligan and I conducted a workshop on some basic concepts and analytical tools in community development—the community capitals framework, asset mapping, community engagement strategies, stakeholder analysis, issue mapping, and so on. These frameworks and tools have broad application. Then a few days later, teams of CA soldiers went into three North Carolina communities to practice what they term “civil reconnaissance” and “key leader engagements.” Leaders from the three communities—Elizabethtown, Warsaw, and Red Springs—were asked ahead of time if they would be willing to host these soldiers and talk with them as part of their preparation for deployment. In each case community leaders were very gracious in giving the CA teams their time and attention. A few days after community engagement practice, the teams returned to the School to present their analysis (i.e., how they utilized the frameworks and tools from the workshop in these real communities). Their work was impressive, and all seemed to agree that the experience was worthwhile.

I wonder if North Carolina communities couldn’t benefit from looking at themselves through a similar lens as the CA teams use. I think it might be useful to think of our communities in terms of what “civil vulnerabilities” exist. The community capitals framework is a very useful tool in assessing those vulnerabilities. And what if local government staff and/or other community developers thought about conducting their own form of “civil reconnaissance” and “key leader engagements” for the express purpose of identifying vulnerabilities and possible mitigation strategies? It seems that the value of such an exercise would be (at least) two-fold. First, it would look at the community and key issues more holistically whereas the tendency is to look at issues in isolation and from our unique vantage point. Second, it might stimulate cross-fertilization of ideas and approaches whereas (again) the tendency, even in smaller communities, is to work in our silos. A community visioning process in many ways provides a similar kind of engagement and holistic approach to community issues. But if resources are not available for something that involved, community developers may want to consider how they can use a CA-like “civil reconnaissance” approach to their work so they can step back from the trees every so often to see the forest.

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